Oyster reef construction on the Lafayette River. Photo courtesy Lafayette River ProjectOyster reef construction on the Lafayette River, done in partnership with the Elizabeth River Project (ERP). Photo courtesy of ERP.

Lafayette River Restoration

Over the past few years, CBF and partners (see sidebar) have greatly stepped up efforts to resuscitate the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Virginia. It is among the earliest settled, most urbanized rivers in the Bay watershed and suffers from many typical problems: too much runoff, too many algal blooms, too much bacteria, and too little oxygen, all of which can stress or kill oysters and other Bay creatures.

But there are many good reasons to be hopeful for the river's future. Thanks to generous grant funding—plus a collaborative effort among the Elizabeth River Project (ERP), the City of Norfolk, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Restore America's Estuaries, and the National Fish and Wildlife Federation—several restoration projects are in full swing.

ERP has set an ambitious goal to make the Lafayette swimmable and fishable by 2014, and CBF's oyster team is focusing a good majority of its current efforts in the Lafayette to help reach this goal. See "The Plan for Restoring the Lafayette River" to learn more about this impressive effort.

Last spring at a press conference, NOAA announced $450,000 in support of oyster and wetlands restoration projects for the Lafayette. The City of Norfolk is assisting efforts with stormwater upgrades, tree plantings, and more.

Oyster Survey Shows Promise

In order to determine the best places in the river for successful oyster restoration, last year CBF carefully surveyed 29 miles of the river's shoreline to determine a baseline approximation of the river's oyster population and to determine the most viable places for restoration efforts.

Survey results suggest that the Lafayette has a relatively robust oyster population, considering the river's troubling overall health. CBF's work includes building and deploying oyster reef balls, adding oysters to sanctuary reefs, building new reefs, and increasing the number of volunteers to grow oysters. More than 80 waterfront homeowners in the Lafayette watershed are helping gather valuable scientific data by being "spat catchers." These volunteers suspend small cages of oyster shell from their docks and a year later tabulate how many oyster larvae attached themselves to the shell to become living, growing spat. Numerous citizens are boosting larvae and oyster populations through traditional oyster gardening as well.

Other encouraging news came in September 2012 as CBF, NOAA and ERP sampled the river for other aquatic life. Among the species noted were shrimp, a seahorse, and dolphin—all species which favor cleaner water—an encouraging indicator that restoration efforts are working. (See article and photos in the Virginian Pilot).

Algal blooms on the Lafayette River
Photo by Christy Everett/CBF Staff

Harmful algal blooms, depicted in these odd-colored swirls, invade the Lafayette and other nearby waterways every summer.

The Lafayette River restoration project is looking for residents who want to take action to turn the river's water quality around.

Get involved!

Cover of The Plan for Restoring the Lafayette River
"The Plan for Restoring the Lafayette River," released April 27, 2011, serves as a guide for community efforts to make the river fishable and swimmable by 2014.

Download the plan (pdf)

Learn some interesting facts about the Lafayette River and the critters that live along it with this treasure hunt map and fast facts from River Star Homes.

Project Partners

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Elizabeth River Project

The City of Norfolk

Norfolk Environmental Commission

Lafayette Wetlands Partnership

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Virginia Port Authority

Hampton Roads Sanitation District

Old Dominion University

The Virginia Zoo

The Hermitage

Norfolk Yacht and Country Club

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